· For my study, I decided to focus onthe French philosopher, Albert Camus, in particular his philosophical novel,’The Fall’.
The fictional story itself is about the fall from grace of awealthy Parisian lawyer, and is written in the form of a confession of whathe’s done. It explores the themes of guilt, justice, freedom and truth, all ofwhich appear in many of the other works by the author Camus. · Albert Camus was a French-Algerianphilosopher, writer and journalist. He was born shortly before the First WorldWar in 1913 in Algeria, which at the time was under French rule. He was borninto a poor family: his mother was a house cleaner and his father was anagricultural worker.
Camus’ father died fighting for France in the famousBattle of the Marne during the First World War. This left Camus and his mother,who was illiterate and partially deaf, to struggle in poverty for much of hischildhood. · Despite this, Camus performed wellin school and was eventually admitted to the University of Algiers, where hestudied philosophy. During his time there, he played football for a prominentuniversity team, where the sense of spirit, fraternity and common purposeappealed to him enormously.
However, his ambitions of playing footballprofessionally were ended when he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, causing himto be bedridden for long periods of time. After this, he took an interest inpolitics, joining the French Communist Party in 1935. He was also marriedtwice, first in 1934 and again in 1940, both ending in divorce as a consequenceof his many infidelities and affairs.
As a result, his second wife, Frenchpianist and mathematician, Francine Faure, suffered from depression and attemptedto commit suicide. Suicide and the idea of whether life is worth living playedan important part in Camus’ philosophies. · He once wrote in his essay ‘TheMyth of Sisyphus’ that “there is only one truly serious philosophical problem,and that is suicide; judging whether life is or is not worth living, that isthe fundamental question of philosophy”. The explanation for this in Camus’eyes is because as soon as we start to think seriously, as philosophers do, wewill see that life has no meaning. It’s a fairly extreme claim and thesis, andis in stark contrast to the notion that life is could actually be rich inGod-given meaning, which has been a huge part of Western thinking for the past2000 years. Camus stands in a long line of thinkers that includes Kierkegaard,Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre who thought that there is in fact nopreordained meaning in life, no bigger point, and its this realisation thatlies at the heart of the philosophical school of thought we now know asexistentialism. However, Camus did not consider himself an existentialist.
Camusrather contributed to the rise of absurdism, the belief that the human tendencyto seek an inherent value or meaning to life was absurd, because it was almostcertainly impossible to find any because of the vast amount of unknownknowledge. However, he believed that we should embrace the absurd condition ofexistence and continue searching for meaning nevertheless, because thisstruggle should bring us happiness. He suggested that the only meaning thatlife has is what each of us give it. He compared it to the mythological Greekfigure Sisyphus, who was ordained by the gods to a life of constantly pushing aboulder up a mountain, and to watch it fall back down again, but he was happyto do so.
· That ideology was explored in hisphilosophical essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, one of his most famous works. Someof his other famous works include the novels and essays ‘The Stranger’, ‘ThePlague’, ‘The Rebel’ and ‘The Fall’. I chose to study ‘The Fall’ because it waswritten at an interesting point in Camus’ life.
He had been heavily involvedwith UNESCO fighting for human rights following the atrocities of the SecondWorld War at the hands of the Nazis. The Algerian War then broke out in hishome country, where his mother still lived. In his personal life, histuberculosis returned, cutting him off from society for 2 years, and he wasinvolved in a highly publicised affair with a famous Spanish actress, which asI mentioned before, led to his wife’s attempted suicide attempt. These allcontributed and had influences on the book.
· ‘The Fall’ is written in the formof a monologue, where the character narrates in the first person, speaking tothe reader. The character is Jean-Baptiste Clamence, formerly a wealthy andsuccessful Parisian defence lawyer. Its mainly set in a bar in the red-lightdistrict of Amsterdam called Mexico City. He describes his glory days in Pariswhere he was rich, successful and charming. He describes how used to noblydefend widows and orphans, but not just for the name of justice, also for thefeeling of always being in the right. He used to help the elderly and blindcross the street, as it made him feel above everyone who was watching. Thingscontinued like this until one late night, he was crossing a bridge over theRiver Seine. He passed a woman and then heard her fall into the water below.
Rather than turn around to save the woman screaming for help, he did nothing atall, because he didn’t want to risk his own life. This was a huge turning pointin his life, as was never able to get over letting the woman drown. Once herealised that he was a hypocrite, he lived in constant fear that everyone elsecould also see the same flaws and see past his façade. By this point in thenovel, he begins to explain why he is admitting all this. It’s because hisconfession isn’t just his own story, it’s everyone’s. He says to the readerthat it’s like he’s taking off his own mask and turning it around and placingit on you. Everyone is guilty of something.
Like its in their nature. If youwere in that situation, what would you do? Would you jump in? You might say,you’d call for help or an ambulance. But what if the woman died anyway, becausethe help came too late. The premise is that you would be responsible and guiltyof negligence. We are guilty not only byour actions, but also our inactions. And if you would jump in, what about othersituations? It’s not about just this one specific example. It could be saidthat when Camus was writing the story shortly after the World War, he wasreferring to the lack of enough action to stop the atrocities of the Nazis. · After the war, the horrors of theHolocaust led many to abandon any belief in an ordered world.
Many began tounderstand Camus and existentialists like Sartre when they spoke about theterrifying abundance of freedom in the world rather than just the lack ofmeaning. To most of us, freedom sounds like a good thing. But the novelexplores the idea that freedom is actually the opposite.
The man was free todecide whether they would save the drowning lady. They were not obligated byany absolute rules or laws. Some might say people only supported the Nazis outof fear of being sent to concentration camps for not doing so, but they stillhad the freedom of choosing. And enough of the supposedly innocent public madethat choice to get Hitler into power and keep him in absolute power for a longperiod of time. This concept of freedom leaves us open to the moral judgementfrom others, which the narrator say is what we are really afraid of when beingjudged, rather than being afraid of punishment. This is because, as thenarrator explains, power and authority come from judging others. · Although Camus himself wasirreligious, the novel explores elements of religion.
The title of the novelcould refer to the fall of man, where Adam and Eve ate an apple from the Gardenof Eden. In that story, they were ordered by God to not eat from the tree, butthey still had the freedom of choice and free will, and were judged andpunished for their actions accordingly. The title also obviously refers to thefall of the narrator from his wealth and success to the seedy bars with littlerespect. It also refers to the literal fall of the woman on the bridge. Thenarrator also compares Amsterdam, which is built in concentric circles, to the7 circles of Hell described in Dante’s famous poem Inferno. It is perhaps anotherallusion to Camus’ view of the situation in Nazi Germany during the war. Amongother things, the book is an attempt to explain how man can be capable of suchatrocities as the Holocaust.
· I found the The Fall to be anenjoyable read and it opened my eyes to the ideologies of Albert Camus, one ofthe most famous philosophers of the last century, and to the concepts ofexistentialism and absurdism, whilst also exploring the concepts of guilt,judgement and freedom of choice. It was Camus’ last fictional novel before hisdeath. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 the year after the bookwas published. Camus died in 1960 at the age of 46 in a car accident in a smalltown outside Paris.
In his coat pocket was an unused train ticket. He hadplanned on travelling by train with his wife and children, but at the lastminute chose to travel by car with his publisher instead. I suppose that wherefreedom of choice gets you.